I frequently and off-handedly refer to the anti-wine atmosphere in contemporary French politics, but lots of American friends are shocked by this. I usually have to explain myself because it’s not exactly breaking news on CNN that the current French government is vehemently set against the consumption of wine.
With lips like that, I’d start drinking.
I’ll often compare the current atmosphere in France to the period shortly preceding the American Prohibition. After reading a very insightful book review at Edible Geography, it turns out this is a bad habit because, despite certain overarching similarities, there are some pretty drastic differences.
The most epic difference is that the American Prohibition actually increased wine production and consumption in the United States. Mondavi and Gallo both started during the Prohibition. See, while the constitutional amendment simply outlawed alcohol, it was Congress’ job to develop laws to enforce that amendment. The Volstead Act, the legislation responsible for the enforcement of Prohibition, allowed for a “fruit juice exemption” that male heads of households could still make 200 gallons of wine or cider per year. So guys like Mondavi were buying grapes in California to bring back to their homies in Minnesota. And the rising demand for grape concentrate and grapes meant more vines planted. It might not have been O’Vineyards quality, but it was a big first step in the wine-ification of the States.
Additionally, most of the members of the unlikely alliance against wine consumption are much more reasonable than the teetotallers leading up to the Prohibition. Very few people in France are advocating NO wine. They’re just saying one glass of wine every now and then. Or like one per day. And to the rest of the French populace, that is preposterous. ;D
On the other hand, there are still several similarities between the American and French temperance movements. For one thing, the unlikely alliance I just mentioned. The US saw collusion between very strange bedfellows. Temperance was one of the first real issues that women had a say in so there were a lot of suffragettes. Then you had a lot of anti-immigration conservatives who saw prohibition as a way to lash out at German and Jewish brewing interests. Racist southerners talking about how the lower races were threats to us all because they can’t handle their liquor. Fundamentalist teetotallers. Soda jerks. I just made that last one up.
Anyway, the movement really played on any primal emotion it could. Your women are in danger! Your sons will turn out worthless! Threats that sort of remind me of the environment in modern-day France, where it is sometimes (not always, but not rarely either) proclaimed that wine consumption will give you cancer. Studies that say totally reasonable stuff like “Drink no more than two glasses per day” are twisted from “à limiter” into “non recommandé” and “à éviter”. Posters about the correlation between alcohol and cancer feature a bottle of wine prominently in the foreground. Et cetera. I should probably do a whole post about these scare tactics with some more links for you… later… after harvest. For now, the French-readers can check out Jean Clavel’s good synopsis. The rest of you wait til I get around to it!
Suffice it to say that the current political atmosphere in France is different from America’s Temperance Movement in important ways. But it’s also got some similarities like scare tactics and bad science.